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IFP New Exhibition | The Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge: An Unfinished & Incomplete

The Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge: An Unfinished & Incomplete Inventory of Extinctions in the People’s Republic of China | Tessa Zettel

Time: Sat 12 December 15:00 // readings at 16:00 (Please come by appointment after opening)

Address: Black Sesame Space, 13 Heizhima Hutong

‘Each time an existence disappears, it is a piece of the universe of sensations that fades away.’

-- Vinciane Despret, ‘Afterword: It Is an Entire World That Has Disappeared’, in Thom van Dooren, Deborah Bird Rose and Mathew Chrulew (eds.), 2017, Extinction Studies: Stories of Time, Death, and Generations

photo credit to: Wu Dandan

Biologists suggest we are now entering the sixth mass extinction event since complex life evolved on earth. Extinction however, is no singular phenomenon, but rather is ‘experienced, resisted, measured, enunciated, performed and narrated in a variety of ways to which we must attend’ (van Dooren, Rose and Chrulew). With increasing heat, pollution and toxicity putting pressure unevenly on all forms of life, how might we now learn ‘to live and die well with each other in a thick present’, as Donna Haraway puts it? What does it mean to cohabit with other species in such a thick, entangled present, where multiple times overlap and intersect, and those of many entities and assemblages as we know them are approaching an end? What are the politics, poetics and affects of more-than-human finitude? And how to collectively acknowledge or commemorate the loss to our own ‘universe of sensations’ when one piece of it disappears?

During six months in residence at IFP, Australian artist Tessa Zettel has hosted an extinction club study group as a way to think together with local participants on these and other questions. Over a series of irregular meetings and field trips, the group recorded a mini-cassette library of their extinction-related readings – covering amongst other things fossil nihilism, passenger pigeons, database aesthetics, de-extinction and cosmoecologies – that is now ready to be shared.

The Extinction Club Reading Group forms part of research for a longer-term project by the artist to make a handmade, riso-printed book + cassette about extinctions in China, telling speculative stories of a variety of nonhuman (animals, birds, gastropods) but also technologies, languages and ways of living) facing permanent erasure. Many curious tales of past and impending loss weave through this rapidly transforming landscape, like the 80-million-year-old pangolin (the most illegally-trafficked and only fully-scaled mammal); the functionally extinct baiji or Yangtze river dolphin, and the Père David deer, once extinct in China but today flourishing again in Beijing’s Nanhaizi Park. Borrowing its title and categories from the fictional Chinese encyclopedia in Jorge Luis Borges’s short story, ‘The Analytical Language of John Wilkins’, the book is a kind of delirious compendium describing how different beings, ecologies and histories are entangled together in webs that are both material and ethical, and borne across time and space by the dynamics of colonization, extraction and exchange. Its cassette tape component will include sound pieces by contributing artists responding to figures of extinction here in China, from the dǎkǒu or cut-out CDs (Yan Jun, China) and a certain thing (Ake, China) to the prehistoric Chinese paddlefish (Jaakko Junnila, Finland).

IFP and Tessa Zettel invite you to see and hear this collective work-in-progress at IFP’s Black Sesame Space. With tea, texts, sounds and black sesame snacks.

Littoraria flammea

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